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The Ridgemount Hotel is a great budget option on hotel packed Gower Street in London’s Bloomsbury neighborhood. In contrast to many of the hotels, it’s definitely a family concern, with the owners around every day to help and pass on tips. I had the pleasure of meeting Aled Rees, the grandson of the original owners.
This is very much a family business isn’t it? I’ve just had the pleasure of meeting your father and your wife. Tell me a little bit about your family and the hotel.
Yes, it started with my grandparents running a bed and breakfast here in the 1960s. My parents were running a dairy up in north London that they sold to come here. They bought the building next door and joined it into the hotel, and I eventually came to work here too. Me and my dad are here everyday.
People must really enjoy that personal touch. Is that what makes the Ridgemount hotel special, do you think?
Yeah, it’s not really everywhere you get the owners in from seven in the morning until 6pm. My dad goes round at breakfast every day and asks people where they are going, and people really seem to like that.
It’s nice working with your family. We’re very lucky with the people we have working here as well. The longest one has been here 25 years, and the next one up from that has been here 15. No one has been here less than five. So we all know each other well and that’s nice too.
Do you have lots of repeat visitors who have got to know you and your family over the years?
There are some people we’ve got in at the moment who were showing us a picture they took in our dining room in the 1980s. My mum and dad look really funny in it! There’s another couple staying who were here 20 years ago. Most of our business is repeat or word of mouth recommendation.
Aside from the personal touch you offer, what else do people like about staying at the Ridgemount?
We’ve got a very good location here, near the University and the British Museum and you can walk to lots of places. People who stay here love the location. It’s a handy spot.
A lot of people also like the history. This is an old Georgian building with a lot of stories! My wife researched the history last year and it’s now up on the website. She did quite a lot of research into who lived here and the history of the buildings and the previous tenants. One of Jack the Ripper’s victims, Long Liz, actually used to live here, in the 19th century.
And has the area changed a lot since your family has owned the hotel?
Well, back in the day, all the hotels on the street used to be privately owned and you knew everyone. Now, it’s not like that any more and four or five are chains, or you don’t know who owns them, and the hotels have become quite generic. It is a real shame. That’s the main change on the street.
What are your favorite local spots?
It’s a good area with lots of traditional restaurants. Gigs, the Fish and Chips shop near Goodge Street, does really, really good fish and chips. And I’m fussy about my fish and chips. Then there is Mondello, a family run Italian restaurant that has been there for a long, long time. And the owners are there every night too. There’s also the Italian Coffee Company and they do slices of pizzas for a few quid. You can get really good cheap food around here.
And what would be your more unusual recommendations for places to visit around London?
I like the Churchill War Rooms–the people who do go there always really enjoy it. The markets as well. Borough Market is very popular, and Spitalfields market and Portobello are really interesting too.
What’s a good cheapo tip for London visitors?
The Gatwick Express does a four-for-two offer, which they don’t really advertise. There’s lots of stuff that’s cheaper online, such as the Big Bus tours or Madame Tussauds. It’s always worth looking online for vouchers: Café Rouge has usually got an offer on, for example.
What’s next for the Ridgemount?
At the moment half the hotel is basic [shared bath], and half is en suite. Our en suite rooms are always booked up, but it’s getting harder to fill the basics, so we’re gradually changing them over.
And the dining room is new. It used to be half a dining room on one side, and half the other side from back when it was two hotels. We’ve just knocked the wall down. On the website, I believe the picture of the dining room is still our old one. It’s a bit silly to keep it up there but I like it as people keep telling us how much nicer our dining room is now!
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Aled. Continued success with the Ridgemount!
For more information on the Ridgemount, read our full review here.